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 Yoga can protect heart, says study

Yoga may protect people from cardiovascular diseases by lowering their associated risk factors, a study by researchers at Harvard University and the Netherlands has suggested, bolstering evidence for what some already practice in India.

The new study, a meta-analysis of 32 earlier studies that had explored the effects of yoga on cardiovascular and metabolic health, has found that yoga can lead to reductions in body weight, blood pressure, cholesterol, triglycerides and heart rate.

The researchers also observed through a subgroup of the studies they analysed that the effects of practising yoga asanas on the risk factors was as good as the effects of aerobic exercise. Their findings were published  in the European Journal of Preventive Cardiology . " We can say with confidence that the evidence for the benefits of yoga is promising," Myriam Hunink, a clinical epidemiologist at Erasmus University in the Netherlands who led the meta- analysis " When we quantitatively pool the results from multiple studies, the power of the results increases this increases the confidence in the findings," Hunink said.

Yoga specialists in India said the results are not surprising but add evidence to a reservoir of scientific literature that has accumulated over the past two decades through studies by several research groups in India.

The study by Hunink and her colleagues found that several risk factors for cardiovascular diseases improved more in those practising yoga than in those not practising any exercise, but yoga had effects comparable to those from exercise.

They observed that the practice of yoga asanas on average reduced the body weight by 2.3kg, blood pressure by 4.9 mmHg, cholesterol by 18 mg/ dl, triglycerides by 29 mg/ dl and heart rate improved by 5.27 beats per minute.

The detailed physiological mechanisms to explain the effects remain unclear. " But the comparable effects of yoga and exercise tell us that something similar to aerobic exercise also happens with yoga," Hunink said.

Doctors who have studied the physiological effects of yoga believe mechanisms involve stress reduction. " Yoga acts through the body and mind management,"

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